It’s downright tragic, how well this one starts — so smart and funny and likable — before the sound of plot gears grinding overpowers the affability and charming byplay of stars Sarah Burns and Adam Pally. They play a pair of dorky co-workers and friends (and only friends) who decide to radically revamp themselves, creating crazy/dangerous personas (“I wanna be sex-in-the-bathroom people,” she says) to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. All the expected complications arrive, and (even worse) without any real motivation or explanation, but merely because that’s when they’re supposed to happen. Some funny scenes, and Burns and Pally have got the movie star goods, but (particularly seen the same week as the trope-skewering Man Up) this one gets clobbered by familiarity.
There’s much to admire in Claudia Llosa’s family drama: the ambitious parallel-story structure, the direct and up-close style, the enigmatic nature of Mélanie Laurent’s character (and performance), and the work of Jennifer Connelly, which plays well into her specialty of strength through tears. But the film is so muted and low-key that it courts monotony — until the end, when a rather untethered Cillian Murphy goes so far over the top as to knock the film off its bearings. It’s not a bad film, per se, and it’s full of good scenes; it’s just oddly forgettable, especially considering how hard everyone’s trying to make an impression.